Going for Baroque

Opus Osm

Amid the old paint and gilded veneers, the new Baroque organ finds its special niche.

Prague Conservatory Inaugurates a ‘Most Adorable Little Organ on Wheels’

The Prague Conservatory of Music has begun a new tradition of the teachers performing concerts together with their students. Such was the case with the inaugural concert for the school’s new Baroque organ, with Jakub Kydlíček conducting the student Baroque Ensemble Feb 28.

This small, single-manual, single-pedal instrument is designed for interpretation especially of Baroque music. And everyone seemed to want a crack at the new organ.

So we had three different organists: Petr Čech, head of the Musical Theory Department, as well as Jan Kalfus and Jan Popleka, both members of the Organ Department. All of these gentlemen have respectable careers and have made many professional recordings.

The music was selected to showcase the new organ. We heard the Concerto for Organ and Orchestra Opus 7/1 HWV 306 by Handel; Concerto in F Major for Organ, Two Violins and Bass by Jan Křtitel Vaňhal; Concerto in G Major for Organ and Orchestra by František Xaver Brixi; and Hipocondrie by Jan Dismas Zelenka. The last three were Czech composers who enjoyed considerable acclaim both at home and abroad due to their brisk and inventive melodies.

The surprising alternation between major and minor, and quick polyphony in the work of Zelenka make this masterpiece difficult to perform, and quite an undertaking for the students. Although Zelenka spent most of his professional life abroad, he returned several times to produce and perform musical works in Bohemia. Many of his works are spirituals, but he also wrote secular works, including coronation music for Charles VI. Hipocondrie is one of these works that he composed in Prague.

What Fate Awaits?

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The new Baroque organ

To underscore the fact that Czechs with talent, like Zelenka, may have to export it, Antonín Habětín, the builder of the organ, was present at the inauguration. His workplace is Straubing, Bavaria.

How many of the student musicians we saw today will meet a similar fate?

The Palffy Palace, the location for this organ-inaugural concert, is the Conservatory’s “early music” center, equipped with the organ and harpsichord, and the school’s newly-established Baroque Orchestra rehearses there regularly, according to deputy director Aleš Kaňka.

The concert hall is similar to, although much smaller than, the Spanish Hall at Prague Castle. Comparisons would not be out of place despite the old chipping paint, cracked and watermarked ceiling, rickety chairs, and cheap wall-to-wall carpet under our feet. We kept having flashbacks to teaching at a secondary school in Prague 2 whose building had also seen better days.

Of course the withered veneer is merely a gloss over deeper systemic problems. The usual thoughts raced through our minds: What wouldn’t some countries give for an institution of this caliber? Why is so little invested in our children, our future? If this is the face of austerity, we don’t want to look into it.

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Pavel Trojan Sr

The principal of the Conservatory, Pavel Trojan Sr, only emphasized these points in his opening words to those gathered, by lamenting the fact that their other venue, the Theater “Na Rejdišti” could also use some upgrades – desperately.

The last time the Prague Conservatory got a new organ was 1977. That is one tradition they hope to change.

But for tonight everybody was pleased with the newest addition to the Palffy Palace Chamber Concert Hall. It is a most adorable little organ on wheels and we hope it serves them well. — oo

– Hana and Frank Trollman


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